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Kitchen gifts to redeem procrastinators

Brian Shaw
Special to the Nevada Appeal
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal
NEVADA APPEAL | NEVADA APPEAL

A wise man once said that regardless of what day it is, there’s only one shopping day left until Christmas. And that’s December 24th. I am the poster child for procrastinating or even worse, relying on my formidable skills at apologizing or making excuses as to why there’s nothing under the tree.

But this year it will be a buyer’s market in retail sales as stores go deep into discounting in an attempt to entice you to buy. And the days following Christmas promise to be a bargain bonanza.

So we’ve compiled a list of gift ideas that are essential to the well equipped kitchen, are likely to be seriously discounted, and are cool enough to get you off the hook.

Topping the list in both function and price (around $300) is a standing mixer like the one made by Kitchenaid. A lot of recipes these days assume that you have one and will give instructions for how long at what speed with which attachment to get the desired results. Mine was a gift from my mother, and in spite of the “household use only” warning on the label, it’s been performing flawlessly at the restaurant for 15 years. With attachments like meat grinders, cheese graters and citrus juicers that you can add on, it becomes the mother ship of kitchen appliances.

Next on the list is an immersion blender. If you’ve ever had to puree a pot of hot soup using a conventional blender, you know it’s time consuming, messy and a bit dangerous. An immersion blender allows you to do all the work in the pot, neat and convenient. In addition they’re great for emulsifying dressings, making salsa or knocking the lumps out of cheese sauce. Most of them come with food processor attachments that can handle light duty chores that otherwise would require you to drag out heavier equipment. All for about $30. Look for one with at least a 200 watt motor.

Every kitchen needs a good knife and our favorite is a Santoku style Japanese knife. The blade has a nice bow to the cutting edge which gives them the perfect rocking motion for chopping and mincing. They’re also easy to keep sharp. Ours are made by Wusthoff (a German company manufacturing Japanese knives in Spain?) and cost about $45.

For the home chef that seems to have everything, consider a propane torch. Besides being good for caramelizing creme brulees and blistering chilis for cleaning, we use it to heat up the knife when cutting cheese cake, warming the outside of spring form pans when unmolding delicate desserts or putting a shine on chocolate genache. Available in a small version at kitchen shops, we prefer the kind you get at a hardware store that uses standard size canisters of propane. Propane runs about $3 while the reusable, lasts-forever quartz igniter is about $45.

And if all you need is a stocking stuffer go for a micro-plane. The smaller ones are good for citrus zest and fresh nutmeg while the bigger ones do fine grating of parmesan cheese or chocolate. Around $6 at kitchen shops.

Remember, sometimes the correlation between money spent and whose been naughty or nice isn’t about the person receiving the gift but about the one giving it. If you’re the one giving and you fall into the naughty category, get ’em the mixer.

Have a Merry Christmas.

This torte recipe below is a good candidate for a New Year’s Eve party. The addition of a little chili powder gives it a warm feeling that enables it to stand up to whatever you might be consuming that night.

8 to 12 servings

1 cup whole blanched almonds

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons all purpose flour

1 pound Mexican chocolate, like Ibarra, rough chopped

3 ounces semisweet chocolate, rough chopped

1⁄2 pound butter

6 eggs, separated

1⁄4 cup strong coffee

1 teaspoon vanilla

1⁄4 teaspoon almond extract

2 pinches of salt

1⁄2 teaspoon chipotle or New Mexican chili powder

1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄4 cup granulated sugar

for the whipped cream:

1 cup whipping cream

1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄4 cup powdered sugar

1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325. Lightly coat a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Line the bottom with parchment paper then spray again. Sprinkle with flour, shake to distribute then tap out any excess flour.

In a food processor combine the almonds, 2 tablespoons sugar and 3 tablespoons. flour. Process until ground, one to two minutes.

In a heavy sauce pan combine the chocolates, and butter. Cook over low heat stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes or so.

In a large bowl combine the egg yolks, coffee, vanilla, almond extract and salt. Stir in the almond mixture, chocolate mixture, chili powder and 1⁄4 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1⁄4 cup of granulated sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for about 45 minutes. The torte should be just set. Remove to a rack and cool for one hour at room temperature. It’s O.K. if the center sinks a little. Chill for at least 3 hours.

To unmold, run a sharp, small knife around the outside of pan then release the springform. Invert on a platter, remove the bottom and parchment paper. Invert onto platter.

Combine cream, powdered sugar, cinnamon and vanilla in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Top cake with cream and garnish with toasted almonds and candied fruit if desired.

– Brian Shaw and his wife Ardie own Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.